Wait, wait? Three factors that extend patients' visit times

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Long wait times affect care outcomes, whether they result from a full waiting room, understaffing or poor time management. A study, published in BMJ Open, examined the top three factors that impact patient wait times and how to improve clinical workflow.

Researchers included three academic clinics, all at varying sizes, and collected data on the factors of clinic congestion, patient punctuality and physician processing rates. These factors were analyzed in 105 visits at a low-volume clinic, 1,264 visits at a medium -volume clinic and 22,266 visits at a high-volume clinic.

Results showed that the average physician processing time was correlated with the tardiness of the patient at each sized clinic. This change in physician behavior lead to longer waiting times, and increased probability of overtime and in the average amount of overtime used.

“Additional work is needed to verify the details of the adaptation mechanism along with efforts to discern whether it is present in other clinical environments, but this work is the first step in demonstrating that it does indeed occur and that it does have an impact on system congestion,” wrote Chester Chambers, PhD, with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and colleagues. “We also believe that its inclusion in models of delivery systems may prove to be a significant step forward in making approaches based on operational research techniques more salient and reliable in healthcare settings.”